Snake-bit on the Defensive Line

Joseph Yeager takes a look at some former defensive players that have not had good endings to their Red Raider or professional careers including the recent exit of Delvon Simmons.

Going back at least to the early 1980s, the Texas Tech football program's defensive line and many of its defensive linemen have suffered severe misfortune. The string of setbacks and tragedies is truly amazing. They are coincidental of course. And Tech has had its share of defensive linemen over that period who have done well, too. But the incidence of highly touted defensive linemen (almost all of them defensive tackles) who flamed out or suffered grievous injury is absolutely amazing. And the bad luck continues with the recent transfer of Delvon Simmons, one of the most decorated prospects Tech has signed in modern recruiting history.


Below is a quick rundown of the dolorous precedent Simmons is following.


Willie Ray Johnson: The lone defensive end to make the miss parade is Johnson, a native of Shallowater. He showed promise as a freshman in the very early 80s and the coaches were expecting big things from him as a sophomore. Unfortunately, he quit the program because of personal issues.


Gabe Rivera: Nothing much wrong with Senor Sack's Tech career. As a senior he was the best defensive lineman in America and still holds the distinction of being Tech's best ever at that position. Rivera was drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers and was just beginning to make an impact when a drunk driving accident left him a quadriplegic.


Willy Reynaveld: Rivera skated on thin academic ice between his junior and senior seasons, and it appeared that JUCO transfer Reynaveld might be called upon to fill Rivera's void. And Tech's coaches weren't worried in the slightest. In fact, they openly speculated that the bull-strong 255-pounder from California might be good enough to keep Rivera on the bench. Sadly, we'll never know how good Reynaveld might have been because he got homesick and returned to the Golden State before ever playing a down in scarlet and black.


Stephen Gaines: This 300-pounder from Electra, Texas played for Spike Dykes early in the 1990s and showed terrific promise, even as a freshman. That promise, however, didn't extend to the classroom. Gaines flunked out and in 1997 sued the Tech athletic department for various and sundry infractions including fraud. The case was ultimately thrown out of court.


Stoney Garland: Another tremendous defensive line prospect from the 1990s was JUCO transfer Garland, who played his high school football in Plains, Texas. He was a monster and would have developed into a premiere collegiate lineman had not a drunken driving accident left him paralyzed. Garland passed away in 2008.


Jason Jones: This 300-pound tackle from Dallas was yet another defensive line casualty in the nineties. He had an extremely impressive freshman campaign backing up Kris Kocurek and looked to be a future star. Unfortunately, he and the Tech coaches didn't see eye-to-eye and Jones transferred to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. After his career there, Jones signed a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys but did not stick.


DanTay Ward: Ward's story is very similar to Jones'. The 300-pounder from Waco showed great promise as a freshman, but did not get along well with then defensive line coach Ruffin McNeil. He quit the program in his sophomore season and has not been heard from since.


McKinner Dixon: Few Tech linemen of recent vintage had as much talent as Lufkin's McKinner Dixon. He earned various freshman All Star honors, but washed out academically, played some JUCO ball, returned to Tech, but spit the academic bit yet again. Dixon never lived up to his immense promise.


Brandon Sesay: This Georgia native arrived at Tech as one of the most heralded JUCO prospects in the nation. The general consensus was that he would be an immediate game-changer. Sesay showed some promise in his first season, but started only sporadically. He flunked out before his senior season.


Pearlie Graves: This Tulsa product spurned the Michigan Wolverines in order to play for the Red Raiders. Graves played quite a bit as a freshman, but quit the program in his sophomore season. It is widely believed that conflicts between Graves, Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow precipitated Graves' departure.


Michael Starts: Like DanTay Ward, Starts was a tremendous prospect from the city of Waco. And like Ward, he quit the program after his freshman season. Starts was among the most heavily recruited players on the entire roster.  

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